A Review of “Making Sense of Forgiveness” by Brad Hambrick

I once preached a sermon on forgiveness in which I spoke of it as a moral command with emotional difficulty. There are many things that make forgiveness emotionally difficult for us, but not properly understanding forgiveness is one reason it can be emotionally difficult. I this incredibly insightful work, counselor Brad Hambrick helps readers gain a robust understanding of the subject and its application to their own lives.

Forgiveness is such a foundational concept for the Christian that it is easy to take for granted that we understand it. As a result we often move towards forgiveness or pressure others to forgive without considering the ways in which that forgiveness might be less than genuine (or “from the heart,” as Jesus commands in Matthew 18:35) or how that forgiveness may be abused or manipulated by others. In Making Sense of Forgiveness Brad has provided a wealth of insight that enables us to better understand those dynamics.

The book is broken down into six sections. The diverse sections will connect with readers differently. So, some will need section three on extending forgiveness, while others may need section four on embracing forgiveness from others. Still others may find section six, which focuses on how to communicate and apply the principles of forgiveness in ministry to others (as pastors, counselors, or friends). These diverse audiences are all addressed in this book, making it an incredibly useful tool in many counseling settings.

Section 1 starts with definitions and misunderstanding of forgiveness. Here Brad offers some real clarity about the nature of our subject. Again, our familiarity with this foundational principle of Christian practice leads many to make assumptions and draw wrong conclusions. He clarifies what forgiveness, isn’t – for example, forgiveness isn’t pretending, or letting someone off the hook, or the same thing as reconciliation. He also spells out why we should not forgive misunderstandings (this is an important concept to learn for those in manipulative relationships).

Section two lays a theological foundation for readers by highlighting God’s forgiveness. Here he touches on questions such as, “Is God’s forgiveness unconditional?” and “does God forgive and forget?”. The chapter ends by wrestling with the concept of “forgiving myself.” As God’s forgiveness is a model for our own we need to make sure that we have a proper understanding of it and the ways in which we can realistically imitate it.

Section three focuses on “Wisely Extending forgiveness.” The word “wisely” becomes important in this portion of the book because, as Brad points out, many people will use the concept of Christian forgiveness as an excuse and justification for moving past hurts without resolution or repentance. Brad discusses, then, things like manipulative repentance and boundaries. He talks about what to do with the remembrance of past offenses that we have seemingly forgiven. For those who are hurting or who have been hurt, this section of the book will be both enlightening and comforting.

Section four turns attention to the offender and gives them guidance on how to receive forgiveness from others. Here he deals with issues of shame and guilt and restored relationships. He also helps sufferers wrestle with God’s forgiveness of their offender.

Section five zeroes in on the concept of “closure.” Brad suggest this is not the best word to describe healing in relational discord. After all, closure seems to mean conclusions and this side of heaven there’s still more work to do relationally. Here, readers will dive into subjects like emotional freedom, God’s vengeance, and protecting vulnerable people from our offender.

Finally, section six gives counsel to pastors, counselors, and friends who want to be helpful. Brad guides us in how we discuss forgiveness, and how we interpret and apply the passages of Scripture which deal with the concept. He also adds a few cautions about caring for those who have been traumatized and those who suffer from “religious scrupulosity.” The guidance here is very useful for ministers of all types and worth taking the time to ruminate on.

This is a profoundly helpful book on a crucial subject. Forgiveness is emotionally difficult in the best of situations, but when we fail to properly understand it or apply it we make that difficulty worse. We can even harm others or ourselves by how we think about this issue and live in response to it. The chapters are short and yet robust, making it an easy read for people who are struggling. Counselors could assign single chapters to individuals or the whole book. In light of so much hurt going on in the church, much trauma and spiritual abuse as well, this book on forgiveness is a breath of fresh air. It represents a book that Evangelicalism needed, even if we didn’t know we needed it.

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